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Photo: CC, Keith Allison

As we grow older, we wave goodbye to our heroes

It is often said that age is the undefeated enemy of all professional athletes—it will eventually win the battle, even if it loses a few skirmishes along the way.

We all know of athletes who defied the odds, putting in career performances at an advanced point in their career.

In 2015, 42-year-old Florida Panthers right winger Jaromir Jagr became the oldest player to score a hat trick in the NHL. Tom Brady is still a formidable force, leading the NFL in touchdowns and atop the MVP race at the age of 38. Tim Duncan is still one of the best big men in the NBA at age 39 as he averages close to 10 points and rebounds per game on top of stellar defence.

These players are sadly, but accurately, viewed as anomalies as eventually every star player must retire. It can be downright depressing watching our sporting heroes succumb to Father Time’s inescapable wrath, and perhaps no current player better exemplifies this than Kobe Bryant.

The five-time champion and 17-time NBA all-star recently announced that the current 2015-16 season will be his last. In turn, the basketball and sports world is genuinely reeling from the news.

What makes it sad is not watching our favourite players end their careers, it’s when we consider how this player will be remembered. Many people can unfortunately recall Michael Jordan’s final days with the Washington Wizards—despite being a team in playoff contention, it was still tough to watch a shell of the greatest player alive.

This season, Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers are bad, plain and simple. A 37 year-old Kobe with a broken shot that nobody seems to be telling him about is not helping them. It only intensifies the mixed emotions surrounding his imminent departure.

As sports fans, we hate seeing old players whose physical abilities fall a crucial step behind their mental experience.

It’s a novel idea that every athlete should receive a send-off like Derek Jeter did—a figurative lap of honour at each stadium they have terrorized throughout the years. But this isn’t only unrealistic, it’s unfair. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz announced that next season will be his last, he is sure to receive similar treatment across the league this coming summer.

Sports are often said to define your success by talent and ability to work hard. Once an athlete reaches their physical peak it simply becomes a countdown until their bodies fail them and they need to ‘hang it up’.

Not all athletes can be honoured for their contribution to the game because, let’s face it, not everyone can be, or will be Kobe Bryant. The unfortunate result is that we now are forced to sit and watch a star painfully close out an illustrious Hall of Fame worthy career.

One can only hope that our heroes keep going as long as possible, but when the bell tolls, instead of crashing and burning before our eyes, they can step away gracefully into the light of our memories.